Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Bee Season

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language

Reviewed by: Sean Fetterly

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
1 hr. 44 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 11, 2005 (limited)
Featuring: Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth
Director: David Siegel, Scott McGehee
Producer: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Copyright, Fox Searchlight
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Relevant Issues
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Religions, including Judaism and Hinduism

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“Words may define us, but it’s love that connects us.”

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) has no reason to believe she is anything but ordinary. Her father Saul (Richard Gere), a beloved university professor, dotes on her talented elder brother Aaron (Max Minghella). Her scientist mother, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), seems consumed by her career. When a spelling bee threatens to reaffirm her mediocrity, Eliza amazes everyone: she wins.

Her newfound gift garners an invitation not only to the national competition, but an entrée into the world of words and Jewish mysticism that have so long captivated her father’s imagination. But Eliza’s unexpected success hurls the Naumann family dynamic into a tailspin, long-held secrets emerge and she is forced to depend upon her own divination to hold the family together.”


A movie that attempts to surpass the level of the usual formulaic fodder that Hollywood continually foists upon us tends to earn a greater tolerance of its flaws. I must confess to wrestling with a grudging admiration of “Bee Season”, the big screen adaptation of the Myra Goldberg novel of the same name. However, despite the picture’s laudable challenge to use our minds for something deeper than simple entertainment, it ultimately falls flat with the usual nihilistic message. It takes a more interesting path than most, but still winds up with the intrinsic lack of hope that life without God inevitably leads to.

Saul Naumann, played by Richard Gere, is a professor of Judaism with decidedly mystical leanings, such as a fascination with Kabbalah. He is a particular proponent of a teaching that words are containers of God. Needless to say, when his daughter Eliza (played in a beautifully understated manner by Flora Cross) displays an inexplicable increase in her spelling ability, he sees great spiritual implications. The parenting time and energy that he previously lavished on the older son Aaron (Max Minghella) is now focused on his daughter as she marches up the spelling bee ranks, with him trying to live his spiritual life vicariously through her all the way.

Every character in “Bee Season” plays off the father’s intense, controlling yearnings for a greater significance in different ways. Even the wife’s (Juliette Binoche) descent into kleptomania is an attempt at achieving wholeness—she takes literally his take on the “Big Bang” that teaches that the world shattered into “shards” that we need to gather together again.

Aaron responds to his father’s overbearing ways and sudden doting on Eliza with a rebellious rejection of his teachings and dives into Hinduism. Eliza’s response to her father’s tutelage is the fulcrum on which the story turns.

Her resolution is simultaneously frustrating and a relief. Since the movie is replete with religious teachings that don’t measure up biblically, it’s gratifying that the story doesn’t finally endorse any of them as the correct path. This, however, not only leaves a few logical holes in the story (there are points in which there seem to be supernatural confirmation of these teachings), but leaves us with the standard message that people loving each other is all that matters and that seeking God leads nowhere.

We are unfortunately also treated to the all too common tendency to strive for “maturity” with a sex scene that does nothing to propel the plot, and a few instances of vulgarity (one use of the Lord’s name in vain and a few “f-words”)—all the more lamentable in a picture in which the protagonist is a sweet young girl. She is the purest aspect of the story, and her desire to see her family whole is touching and a worthwhile message in itself.

This film is fairly well executed, with an appropriate sense of pacing, and the acting is uniformly solid. The story, despite some underdeveloped character motivations and logical flaws, is memorable. However, it’s really the proverbial double-edged sword—seeing characters that are looking at more than the temporal is heartening, but since the searching leads nowhere, it’s ultimately discouraging.

To those who approach this film with Christian discernment, there’s an interesting story to be had and some interesting grist for the mill, but not much more. Individuals that are searching themselves will no doubt identify to some degree with one or more of these characters, but therein lies the spiritual danger of a movie like this—an encouragement to accept the false notion that we ourselves are the ultimate reality. My prayer is that those seeing this movie would pick up the search for Truth where these characters left off.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

Viewer Comments
Neutral—“Bee Season” uses a young girl and her spelling ability to tell the story of a family sadly alienated from each other. Instead of focusing on the little girl and her entering into the world of competitive spelling we are instead introduced into one of the saddest movie families I have seen in some time.

The center of the movie is the young girl yet it is the father played well by Richard Gere who really drives the movie and is the seeming cause of all of the alienation. He teaches religion and knows a lot about the topic yet it has never become something personal for him. Instead of bringing joy, hope, and unity, he seemingly shatters a family.

His young daughter seems to miss out on his attention because she really doesn’t stand out in any specific way. But when her spelling talent is made known her father begins to live the rest of the young girls journey through her accomplishments. Instead of unconditional love we see a love given based on performance. Meanwhile the father is clueless to a family falling apart at the seams.

The movie speaks of religion, and we see a son who rebels and joins a Hare Krishna sect, but ultimately the movie doesn’t really push any religion at all. Religion is reduced to something misused and misunderstood that ruins a family.

I thought I would be seeing a family movie but instead saw a movie that I don’t see as being appropriate for a child to view. That’s sad because the movie focuses on a little girl and I imagine many will be surprised when they watch this movie with younger children and find a totally unnecessary sex scene and some vulgar language. I think for an adult the movie shows us the danger of knowing about God but actually not knowing Him at all. There are lessons to be learned. A perfect alternative to this movie would be “Searching For Bobby Fisher” which tells the story of a young boy and his family as he enters into the world of competitive chess.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Allan, age 51
Negative—This film is a platform for spreading the evil of kabbalah—mystic ideologies. Puts over the impression that God is to be found within words and through one’s mind and that through the intellect man can achieve oneness with God. Oneness with God is achieved solely through God’s one and only Son, Jesus and walking with Him.

Interesting to see yet another false religion (kabbalah) where there is no need for sacrifice and no penalty for sin. Film was well-directed, but would strongly advise against seeing it.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 4
—Nathan Brown, age 29
Negative—Don’t waste your time or money to rent this. This film is not so much about a little girl participating in spelling bees but a subtle propaganda piece that “all roads lead to God,” and the popular modern mysticism that seeks God apart from what He clearly reveals to us in His written Word of the Old and New Testaments.
My Ratings: Average / 3
—Michael Hranek, age 53
Negative—This is one of the worst, most disturbing films I have seen of late. Even though we fast forward most of the tense and sexual scenes, there is literally nothing of value here. From the very beginning we kept asking “What’s wrong with these people?” I literally hated this film! I usually don’t like to say that, but this film is very anti-Christ. By that I mean that everything it is based upon is against what Christ teaches. He is THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life, and no one can come to the Father but by Him. There wasn’t a character in this film that wasn’t disturbing! I love watching films, but this one was not one I can at all recommend. It left that taste in my mouth, that yuck taste! PG-13 is pushing it, it might have been better as an R.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 4
—Jason Stone, age 39